January 2003

Private Pension Plans, Participation, and Assets: Update

(Data from tabulations of the U.S. Department of Labor's Form 55001)

Plans
The total number of private pension plans increased from 311,094 in 1975 to 733,029 in 1987, then declined to 702,097 in 1993. From 1987 through 1994 the number of private pension plans seesawed (some years showing a decline from the previous year and others showing an increase). From 1994 through 1998, the number of private pension plans steadily increased, from 690,344 to 730,031.

Defined Benefit Plans

  • The total number of private defined benefit plans increased from 103,346 in 1975 to 175,143 in 1983. The number of defined benefit plans declined in 1984 to 168,015. The years 1985 and 1986 saw increases in the number of defined benefit plans to 170,172 and 172,642, respectively. After 1986, the number of defined benefit plans steadily declined, to 56,405 in 1998.

Defined Contribution Plans

  • Unlike defined benefit plans, the number of defined contribution plans has steadily increased since 1975, with minor declines in 1991, 1993, and 1994. In 1975, there were 207,748 private defined contribution plans. By 1998, that number had increased to 673,626.

  • As a percentage of all private pension plans, defined contribution plans increased from 66.8 percent in 1975 to 92.3 percent in 1998. The most common types of defined contribution plans are profit-sharing and thrift savings plans. In 1998, there were 542,869 of these plans, accounting for 80.6 percent of all defined contribution plans. Money purchase plans were the second most common type of defined contribution plan. In 1998, these plans numbered 99,163 and accounted for 14.7 percent of all defined contribution plans.

Collectively Bargained Plans

  • In 1998, 2.4 percent of all private pension plans (or 17,693) were collectively bargained. Among defined benefit plans, 8,300 were collectively bargained, representing 14.7 percent of all such plans. This compares with 9,392 collectively bargained defined contribution plans, representing 1.4 percent of all defined contribution plans.

Participation
Total participation includes active participants (those individuals who are currently participating in a plan sponsored by their employer), retirees, and individuals who have left a vested benefit in a plan sponsored by a former employer. In 1975, there were 40.4 million total participants in private pension plans. By 1998, total participation had steadily increased to 99.5 million.

  • The number of active participants in private pension plans increased from 38.4 million in 1975 to 73.3 million in 1998. The number of active participants in defined benefit plans increased from 27.2 million in 1975 to 30.2 million in 1984. Since 1984, the number of active participants in defined benefit plans has been declining. Yet from 1997 to 1998 the number of active participants in defined benefit plans increased slightly, from 22.7 million to 23.0 million. The number of active participants in defined contribution plans increased steadily, from 11.2 million in 1975 to 50.3 million in 1998.

  • In 1998, there were 6.9 million active participants in multiemployer plans. Most were in a defined benefit plan (4.7 million, or 67.9 percent of all active participants in multiemployer plans). In 1998, there were 66.4 million active participants in single-employer plans. Unlike the case with multiemployer plans, most were in a defined contribution plan (48.1 million, or 72.5 percent).

Assets

  • Total private pension plan assets amounted to $4.0 trillion in 1998. Defined benefit plans accounted for 48.2 percent of private pension plan assets, or $1.9 trillion, while defined contribution plans accounted for 51.8 percent of private pension plans assets, or 2.1 trillion.

  • Data on rates of return in private pension plans are available from the Form 5500. In 1998, the latest year for which data are available, the rate of return on defined benefit plan assets was 14.2 percent, on defined contribution plan assets, 15.8 percent, and on 401(k) plan assets, 12.0 percent.

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1 Private-sector employers are required to file Form 5500 annually with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service reporting their pension plan participation and assets. The data are analyzed by the U.S. Department of Labor's Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration (PWBA). The Form 5500 reports are the federal government's major source of private-sector retirement data.

For more information, contact Ken McDonnell (202) 659-0670.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Pension Welfare Benefit Administration, www.dol.gov/pwba/publications/main.html

FS-167